Monday, 1 February 2010

The Perils of Island Air Travel


About nine years ago, I took the shortest flight I've ever experienced.  Including takeoff and landing, our total flight time was around seven minutes.  We were a group of female American law students concluding a weekend spent on the Aran Islands.  The Arans are off the west coast of Ireland, across from Galway.  After a weekend spent on rent-a-bikes visiting stone age fortresses and avoiding copious amounts of horse and sheep poo, we were loaded down with plenty of tea, toast, and Aran island sweaters. 

Incidentally, this is the first time it dawned on me that for a region seemingly consumed with matters of health and safety, no major tourist attraction in the States would allow its visitors to do this:
Thanks to Tak from HK

Bearing this in mind, I arrived at the miniscule Inis Mor airport/strip of paved road with few expectations.  Our plane would be the smallest I'd ever flown in, a BN2a Islander.  It holds eight passengers and has a rear baggage hold capacity of 120 kg (264 lb).  I presented the only person around with my bag, perfectly prepared for the usual routine of weighing and tagging.  Despite being bulky, my new sweater couldn't weight that much. 

Turns out, it wasn't the weight of the sweater I should have been worrying about.  "Step on the scale," the crusty baggage dame told one of our party.  Surely she did not mean personally, but I saw a particularly peanut-like member of our group mount a flat scale as the dame jotted down the numbers.  This was turning into a Weight Watchers meeting from hell.  My first instinct besides panic was to shed all unnecessary weight in the form of coats, shoes, and hair accessories.  I didn't think I had time to sneak off to the bathroom/bush behind the building to adjust my weight further.  I was torn between the instinct to minimize, and the weighty thought that if I decieved and we were overloaded, we were all going to die.  My turn came.  I closed my eyes and stepped aboard.  She muttered something about stones, and told me to step down. 

How kind, she must think I have stones in my pockets to weigh what I do, but what was the damage? I wondered.  We were all joyously naive.  We had been weighed in stones (increments of 14 pounds), and none of our group had a flipping clue what a stone was, other that we had nearly fallen off some over the course of our weekend. 

We wedged ourselves on the plane, none the wiser, and it chugged down a strip that terminated at the edge of a cliff.  After a few nails were quickly whittled down, we thankfully had enough momentum to avoid dropping like stones into the sea and enjoy the rest of our seven-minute flight.

We were in the hands of an Irish bush pilot.  He wore shiny avaitor sunglasses and had coal-black hair.  We arrived at the Connemara Airport and watched him swagger off... into the bar.  It was 10 a.m.

I resisted being an American tee-total tattletale and admired him from afar.  To me, a stiff drink sounded like a fine idea. 

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